How has the business of life sciences affected us today? How will it affect our future?
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Life Sciences

Inspecting ears of hybrid seed corn, 1939In Iowa, businesses in the life sciences industry grow from strong roots of a storied past. Some of the greatest achievements in the world of life sciences have occurred in Iowa. Important research, innovation, invention, discovery, development and even a Nobel Prize are fruits from those who have labored in this field. Expect more Iowa accomplishments in the years to come as this field is rapidly growing. The impact on Iowa’s economy is significant and could change the face of Iowa business and industry.

Biotech and More

The life sciences are defined as the study of living things such as plants, animals and people. A variety of businesses can be found in Iowa’s life sciences industry. They provide goods and services that help things live. Botany, genetics and biotechnology, pharmacology and medicine, biology, microbiology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, ecology and others are fields within the life sciences.

Many of the businesses and industries within the life sciences have evolved from agriculture. Businesses have developed that help farmers contend with weather problems, insects, weeds and plant diseases. Cargill, Monsanto, Garst, and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. are all Iowa companies that use knowledge of life sciences to make farming a little less difficult.

Iowans Who Made a Difference

Research and innovation in the life sciences have had an impact on the industry as well. Iowa has had more than its share of creative and talented minds. George Washington Carver was a former slave who became an educator, scientist, business leader and renowned agriculturist. Former vice president and secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, devoted research relevant to the improvement of corn. His work on hybridization turned into one of Iowa’s largest life science companies, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Dr. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for his genetics research that made wheat more disease resistant and saved millions of people from starvation.

Some of Iowa's public institutions have had a significant impact on the life sciences industry. Universities in Iowa were early contributors to this field. The first public veterinary college in the U.S. was established at Iowa State University. The fourth state-university-run pharmacy program in the nation opened at the University of Iowa. Lee E. Travis and his research team at a University of Iowa laboratory invented the electroencephalograph (EEG) and opened the door to production and sale of medical equipment. The Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing, founded at University of Iowa, conducts research and development in the life sciences field. At the University of Iowa Heart Care, the first cardiac specialists worldwide used magnetic guiding systems for heart problems.

Some Problems

Some advances in the life sciences field have generated concerns. Biotechnology, and especially genetic engineering (GE), has the power to affect every aspect of our lives. The medicines we take, the food we eat, the water we drink, even the clothes we wear, can all be changed through genetic engineering. Along with all the potential, however, come serious concerns that cannot be overlooked. What if a genetically engineered crop damages the environment it grows in? What if foods from these crops trigger allergies? What if a bacteria engineered to clean up oil spills also harms the wildlife that come into contact with it?

The life sciences industry in Iowa has built upon a storied past in agriculture, research and innovation. Major world-renowned companies have developed right here in Iowa. Some of the new technologies that are emerging can potentially change our lives. It is a growing field, and more Iowa companies will emerge to lead advances in the industry.



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